Monday, January 09, 2006

ARI'S OASIS. 1. The Writer Who Craved Discipline

A market town had flourished at this oasis in the desert for more than two thousand years. Travelers from the East and the West stopped here to shop the twisting alleys of the Bazaar, to buy blown glass, spices, and oil, to sit in the deep shade and sip sweet tea, to buy and sell treasures, to sing songs, and to write poetry. Some made the trek, even from thousands of miles away, just to meet with Ari, a man with a great beard who saw clients in the back of his daughter's bookstore and gallery.

His daughter Maya was a glass artist who sold her art--along with scented candles, totems, musical instruments, and books--in a dark shop with a curtained entrance at the center of the Bazaar. It took you twenty minutes to get to Ari's room at the back of Maya’s shop no matter which entrance to the Bazaar you selected, and kings and beggars, talk show hosts and hermits, each had to make the same pilgrimage, past the rug merchants and the stalls with their hammered brass lamps and filigreed incense burners. There were no short-cuts, no special treatment. Ari's clients knew that intuitively, without having to be told; they knew that each would be treated alike and that each had to make the same journey.

Ari would counsel you by phone or by E-mail, if that was your preference. Many creators chose that route, since their lives were busy and the desert was far away. But a surprising number came in person. Creative and would-be creative people from every corner of the globe negotiated the narrow, teeming alleys of the Bazaar and arrived at Maya's shop--writers came, entrepreneurs came, rock musicians on tour came, scientists came. All found their way to the shop at the center of the oasis.

Ari's wife, Rose, took care of unwanted babies, hugging them, kissing them, singing to them and playing with them. That was her job and her life. Ari's daughter Soledad, two years older than Maya, lived in Barcelona, where she taught bioethics at the great university and wrestled with life and death issues at Barcelona's main hospital. Ari's son Abraham was a foreign correspondent whose bravery and hatred of petty dictators was legendary. Ari, for his part, loved strong coffee, which he took black, baklava, the smell of cinnamon, and truth, beauty, and goodness.

One day a young writer named David, pained that he had not completed a single one of the twenty stories he had begun in the past year-and-a-half, came to see Ari.

"I am so undisciplined!" David blurted out as soon as he was seated. "What is discipline?"

Ari stared at the young man without smiling. Then he replied, "For an artist, the word 'discipline' has a special meaning." He fixed David with his gaze. "Let's say that the urge to write about something welled up in your soul. You understand that feeling?"


"What are your two possible responses?"

David thought for a moment. "To say 'no' to the urge or to say 'yes' to the urge."

Ari nodded. "If you said 'no' to the urge, maybe you would go out and exercise. Maybe every time you said no to your creativity, you would exercise, one time jogging, another time lifting weights, and so forth. If you did that all the time you might get very fit. What might people say about you?"

David pondered the question. "Well, I think that people would say ... that I was very disciplined!"

"Exactly. But would you be writing or completing your stories?"


"Would you be a creator or something else?"

"Something else."

"For a creator, discipline means creating regularly. It can have no other meaning. Being disciplined in some other way, like doing yoga every morning or doing superb work at your day job, is not only not an artist's discipline but it may even be avoidance of an artist's nature. So, you ask, what is discipline? For an artist, it is artist's discipline and no other kind of discipline, not even the very important discipline of the alcoholic artist who maintains sobriety or the depressed artist who maintains hope."

"I understand!" David pulled on his short brown beard. "But how can I acquire artist's discipline?"

"Imagine that you've been placed on a spinning beach ball and that you can just maintain your balance. It takes every ounce of effort to keep yourself upright, every ounce of mental and physical dexterity. Could you also write?"

"No. Not as you described it."

"No, you couldn't. What would artist's discipline mean in that context?"

David thought for some time. He imagined that if he got very skilled at riding the beach ball, maybe he would then possess the wherewithal to also write. He could picture a great acrobat twirling on the beach ball and also drinking lemonade and writing War and Peace. That image was very seductive. The great acrobat's mastery was impressive and also looked easy, effortless. Why couldn't he learn to handle life, no matter how chaotic and demanding it might be, and also write? But in the pit of his stomach he understood what riding on that ball would feel like. It would never be possible to write, not so long as he had to maintain his balance.

"I would have to fall off the ball first," he murmured.

"Or hop off!" Ari laughed. "Yes. On and off, on and off, one minute in the whirlwind of spinning life and the next minute in the deep quiet of not riding the ball. The first step is hopping off the spinning ball. Then you will meet yourself, in stillness, in all your nakedness, without that balancing act to distract you or occupy your thoughts. What will be spinning then?"

"My stomach!" David blurted out.

"Exactly. Then and only then will you get to create. Then you will find yourself in the very best anxiety, in real quiet, married to your own thoughts. Then you will write and finish things."

David nodded. He knew what Ari meant. But he didn't know how to acquire that discipline.

"Go now," Ari said before David could ask his next question.


"You have the idea. Now master it."


"Go now."

David got up reluctantly. A few seconds later he found himself back in the tumult of the Bazaar. Just as he emerged from the shop, a shaft of mid-afternoon desert sunshine completely blinded him.


Angela Rockett said...

Lovely story, and right to the heart of the matter. Thank you for posting it.

pam said...

hmm, now I see why people think of me as so disciplined ... my escapes from creative work are so impressive, even I sometimes believe their value and priority ... big mistake!

jumping of the ball right now, thanks...

Janet said...

Thank you for this story. It does go right to the heart of the matter for me. Now to do it.

VictoriaOnOkinawa said...

Great story but I'm a bit like the artist at the end of the story still trying to figure out the self-discipline thingy to do what I really want to do instead of the other things like housework and exercise, writing comments to stories...hmmm